#WFH: What’s Your Identity Online?

Identity takes form from the time we are infants. It is developed by the human cognitive characteristic of categorizing and pigeonholing. We are male or female, Indian or Italian, Jewish or Catholic, doctor or lawyer, Democrat or Republican. We are either in the friends group on Facebook or one of the contacts on LinkedIn. We use group labels to define who we are. We also use individual labels like names. Online, we get to be creative with those labels. We can change from Joe Smith to BananaJoe and create an entirely new online identity. Our sense of personal worth can be contingent upon this identity. Identity can be related to the prestige of the labels used to create it. How people respond is often affected by their social identity.

Social identity also gives us archetypes and role models. Since consciousness has to be present in order to have self-consciousness, this image of who we are as individuals evolves gradually out of social experiences. Our experiences online with social relationships – and even how we interact and relate – is distorted through a veil of technologies. We see ourselves totally differently than we really are and that is not only OK, but often accepted and encouraged. We join groups and get involved in massive online games to become someone else. Online lets us adapt our self to new and virtual worlds. It may not matter if you are the Guardian Fighter trying to fix The Holy Trinity at the local gas station but it is important in MMORPG  (massive multiplayer online role playing game) space.

All of this is enormously complex but it comes down to this: online you have more choices and also more responsibility for how you define yourself. It is not a simple case of the parts adding up to the whole. The concept of self is a complex synthesis of every conscious moment, our environment, interactions, thoughts, feelings and the individual’s perceptual field. It is all remarkably diverse and reflects the attitudes you have toward something. These attitudes often determine how we respond. They can differ in content, direction, intensity, clarity, consistency, salience and accuracy (Rosenburg, 1986). Responding in an environment where many boundaries are no long present makes responding with intent even more challenging. When working online, one of the first areas of challenge you will notice is in personal boundaries.

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